A gift from the artist to Guillaume Apollinarie, 1914
Thence by descent
Acquired by the present owner at Couturier and de Nicolay, Paris, Ancienne Collection de Guillaume Apollinaire, 20 November 1998, Lot 101
This work is one of several still life paintings that Goncharova painted in the years 1912-13, prior to her departure for Paris, including Still Life with Leg of Ham and Duck (fig.1) located in the Russian Museum, St. Petersburg (1912) and Linen (fig.2) in the Tate Gallery, London (1913). Like both of these still life compositions, the present painting is unusually literal in its exploration of contemporary Cubist and Futurist theory. Though the reverse of the painting gives no indication of a title, a formal analysis of it suggests that it may be one of several that Goncharova had titled Constructions Based on Transparency (Theory of I. M. Firsov) in the catalogue list of her total output published by Il'ia Zdanevich (under the pseudonym Eli Eganbiuri) in 1913. Works by this title were exhibited at her retrospective exhibition held in Moscow in October 1913 (cat. nos. 660-663), and in St. Petersburg in March-April 1914 (cat. no. 221: Still Life [Principle of Transparency]). Having given the painting as a gift to the French poet and theorist of Cubism, Guillaume Apollinaire, author of the catalogue essay to her and Larionov's first joint exhibition held at the Paul Guillaume Gallery in Paris in May-June 1914, she likely exhibited it in that show as an unnamed still life (cat. no. 44). Indeed the artist's own inscription on the reverse links the gift with the exhibition; it reads:
"As a souvenir to Mr. Apollinaire from his admirer, Natalia Goncharova June/914 Paris."
Another inscription on the reverse in the artist's hand reads "Moscow, May 1911." This latter date is further proof, demonstrated by the false dating that both Goncharova and Larionov initiated with this show, of her desire to create a new narrative of origins and originality for her Cubist, Futurist and Rayist work in the competitive avant-garde artistic environment of prewar Paris. Most of the paintings exhibited in this show, including this still life, were anti-dated by several years by the artists themselves in the catalogue.
The obvious links between this work and those mentioned above place it within Goncharova's most eclectic and arguably radical period (1912-13), when she had expressed her acceptance of all movements, and isms. What Goncharova practised Il'ia Zdanevich and Larionov promoted as "Everythingism". Goncharova would claim in her "Creative Creed", a draft for her Moscow catalogue essay (1913) that she rejects "symbolism, decadence, futurism, all of which I have experienced." Yet in the same statement she also claims to "set myself no limits in the sense of artistic achievements and always make use of all contemporary accomplishments and discoveries in the realm of art."
In this still life, the discoveries she is clearly most interested in are the theories of transparency advanced in contemporary Italian Futurist manifestos, as well as in well-known texts on n-th dimensional geometry that describe dimensions invisible to the human eye, especially Petr Uspensky's Tertium Organum (1912). In Zdanevich's monograph and Goncharova's catalogues of 1913 and 1914, a specific source is attributed to these theories, namely I. M. Firsov, an artist who had become allied with Larionov and Goncharova in 1913 and exhibited with them in their last Moscow group exhibition No. 4 (Futurists, Rayists, Primitive) in April 1914. The exact nature of his contribution to this theory is not known, but many references to the perception of transparency effected by sensations of motion and multiple perspectives may be found in Italian Futurist manifestos from 1912-13. Closer to Goncharova however was Larionov's own writing on the subject, in his manifesto Rayism of 1913 he explains: "Futurism expands the picture: it places the artist in the centre of the picture, it examines the object from different points of view, it advocates the translucency of objects, the painting of what the artist knows not what he sees . . " Goncharova appears to have espoused, at least temporarily, a view shared by many of her generation-- that the artist acts as a clairvoyant to communicate an unseen reality that is truer and more profound than the physical world we inhabit.
In this painting we also have, however, a striking example of Goncharova's sense of her place in the present. The still life includes a variety of fruits, some exotic (oranges and lemons), some less so (apricots and plums), all arranged on the table, which, as a result of the ambiguities of pictorial space, doubles as the picture's material support or ground. Fragments such as the split watermelon appear to be connected by a unity of planar forms and transparent overlay of other objects, crystal bowls and plates. The painting also makes reference to her interest in artifacts of popular culture, such as the printed tablecloth in the lower right and the primitive toy or painted figure on horseback in the upper left. Formal devices found in her cubist paintings are expanded here to include a prismatic articulation of space in the centre-top of the image, as well as futurist devices of opening up the interior of an object, and the repetition of forms; indeed the "knives" may represent one knife, the apricots only one apricot. For all its inventory of cubist and futurist devices, the brushwork and facture appear to be consistent or uniform throughout. In summary, this is a major work by one of the major Russian avant-garde artists of the prewar period.
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